"I’ve Been Wrong Before is an intoxicating, headlong, barbaric yawp of a journey. Evan James whisks us along as he performs in a San Francisco drag show as a cell phone, visits Provincetown during “Bear Week,” gets mistaken for a sex worker in Barcelona, and off-road mountain bikes in a “high-speed, enlightenment-free chase though Southeast Asia.” We’re having such a good time that we hardly notice his introspection, his quest for belonging, and his pursuit of the big questions, all in splendid sentences. I’ve Been Wrong Before gets our messy human lives so very, very right." —Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs
“Each of Evan James’s essays rings with the remarkable tenderness in them, arriving with the wit and sharp insight like the quiet friend sneaking into the party behind the flashier ones—a love for his subjects that even they may not have for themselves. I have been tapping my foot for years, waiting for this collection, and now I will continue as I wait for the next one.” —Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“Reading the essays of Evan James is like getting trapped in an elevator with the most entrancing stranger you’ve ever met. It’s the radiant company you didn’t even know you needed until the world graced you with it. His voice is tender, surprising, and true—bursting with absurdity and vitality, with the deep bewilderments, long yearnings, and messy fulfillments that constitute a life.” —Leslie Jamison, New York Times-bestselling author of Make It Scream, Make It Burn
“Perhaps [James] has been wrong before, but in this fine collection, he is inarguably right.” —Booklist
"James (Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe, 2019) memorably revisits experiences from his past, whether random encounters or more significant life-changing events. In each case, he reveals impressive candor and depth of thought about his formative years and his development as a writer. Cutting gay cultural clichés, the author skillfully reveals his complex inner life. Attuned to the broad expectations or struggles of being a contemporary gay male, he is also deft in his exploration of the personal and financial difficulties of anyone living in our current era. A remarkably insightful and entertaining collection from a talented voice." —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
Praise for Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe
“What a joy to be with the Widdicombes! As funny and charming as a summer party you never want to end.”— Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Less
“Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe is shrewd as hell and hysterically funny. A summer novel, a comedy of manners, a razor-sharp satire of the idle rich...there’s so much unbridled pleasure to be found in this rogue’s gallery of new-age self-help gurus, aspiring screenwriters, bird-watching party-planning social climbers, lovesick assistants, despondent patriarchs, ne’er-do-well houseguests, indolent watercolorists, and loveably loathsome cads of all kinds.”— Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties
“An assured, big-hearted debut, as tender as it is hilarious. Evan James's wry intelligence and sense of the absurd are an absolute delight.”— R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
“Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe had me smiling from the very first page, and long after I put it down. Evan James writes dysfunctional characters with more wit, compassion, and heart than any writer I’ve come across in a long time. This is an enormously satisfying debut.”— Grant Ginder, author of The People We Hate at the Wedding
“Spend a head-spinning summer with the Widdicombes and their entourage in James’ gleefully over-the-top satiric debut.”— Kirkus Reviews
“An absurd and hilarious satire full of unlikely characters who are all wildly introspective, dysfunctional, and prone to New Age philosophizing." —Library Journal
“James’s debut blends saucy wit with a fresh voice. . . . The dynamic characters will satisfy many tastes, and it’s with a writerly sleight-of-hand that the peculiar humor and quirky truths of family, friendship, and love are revealed.”— Publishers Weekly
"[A] mordant comedy of manners . . . James is a fine writer, and his narrator maintains a consistent, ironically self-serious tone, skewering contemporary mindfulness culture and the pursuits of those with time, money, or both to burn." —Booklist
"We know how this one tends to go: a big summer family gathering, filled with dysfunction and secret-spilling and absurd misunderstandings. Fingers crossed that first-time novelist James can put his own quirky stamp on the subgenre." —Entertainment Weekly
" I can’t think of a writer better equipped to write a contemporary comedy of manners." —Literary Hub
"Oh look, it's the perfect book. Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe is a hilarious and witty joy of a novel about a family's insanely dramatic summer at their new island home. It's LOL levels of funny, each sentence is quote-worthy, and it's also pretty heartwarming. The only bad news is that it goes by way too fast." —Cosmopolitan
James follows up his debut novel, Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe, with a collection of heart-wrenching, hilarious, and provocative essays. "Lovers' Theme" is set against the backdrop of the San Francisco drag scene and offers glimpses into key themes of the collection: sexual identity, anxiety, grief, memory, and the relentless abutting of the social, political, professional, and sexual roles we all play. In "The Land of Sweets," the author's exchanges with a Disney Princess-obsessed coworker at first seem to serve as a way of juxtaposing his anxiety against an optimistic person's life; the essay takes a sharp turn, though, revealing aspects of grief and self-preservation that happen behind the scenes as people are forced to pretend they're fine while "grieving in shifts." James explores the problem of struggling to maintain "philosophical amusement" in dark situations and the problematic messiness of memory, despite (or perhaps because of) social norms designed around preserving "Kodak moments." VERDICT This is a profoundly moving book that doesn't let up and is well worth the emotion it is sure to engender in readers.—Emily Bowles, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
Wry, contemplative personal essays reflecting on travel, intimate connections, and the pursuit of a writing life.
In this debut collection, James (Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe, 2019) memorably revisits experiences from his past, whether random encounters or more significant life-changing events. In each case, he reveals impressive candor and depth of thought about his formative years and his development as a writer. The journey wasn't always smooth, and the author is forthcoming about some of the many jobs he has had over the years, including answering phones at the San Francisco Ballet during Nutcracker season, a brief summer interlude at a gelato stand in Seattle, and an extended writing sabbatical ("writing aside, the primary gift of a residency is ample time half-free from the expectations of the world") and stint at the Carson McCullers house in Columbus, Georgia. Frequent travel to both familiar and remote locations throughout the world allowed James to chronicle complicated and occasionally awkward interactions with foreign cultures. Throughout, he reflects on the nuanced challenges of personal interaction in any form, from bonding with job associates to investing in more enduring friendships, or from navigating the challenges of finding enduring love to casual hookups with strangers. "The pursuit of sex, which at times feels like it's all masks, all theater, can demand so little real exposure," writes James. "What petrified me was that I wanted more than sex from Karim: I longed to fall fully in love with him, which is much more frightening—love demands that you rest in place offstage, endure heroic passages of time together, time in which one must confront, continually, the tired, the ridiculous, the warty actor behind the role." Cutting gay cultural clichés, the author skillfully reveals his complex inner life. Attuned to the broad expectations or struggles of being a contemporary gay male, he is also deft in his exploration of the personal and financial difficulties of anyone living in our current era.
A remarkably insightful and entertaining collection from a talented voice.